COLUMBIA, MO. â¢ A year ago, Missouriâs offensive linemen dreaded the middle drill. Midway through every full-pads practice, the coaches matched the offensive line, tight ends and backfield against the defense, linebackers and safeties. No receivers, no cornerbacks, no frills. No passing plays, no runs outside the tackles. Just a couple thousand pounds of bone, muscle and pads smashing into each other on running plays into the teeth of the defense.
Mizzouâs first-year coaching staff promised to build their no-huddle spread offense around a punishing ground game, but to turn those plans into results required more physical play along the line of scrimmage. The young, untested offensive linemen couldnât wait for the drill to end. Their knees and ankles were exposed underneath piles of humanity. Sometimes their heads throbbed after collisions.
This year, after the running game progressively improved last fall, the same core of linemen canât get enough of the dayâs most grueling drill.
âItâs what we enjoy,â offensive line coach Glen Elarbee said. âI donât know if it was that way a year ago. I think it is now.â
âNow, (Elarbee) calls it our Super Bowl of practice,â left guard Kevin Pendleton said. âWe might get just three reps or get five, but we love it. Thatâs the pride that we have every time we go out there.â
While the trademark feature of Mizzouâs offense is the wide receiver splits that utilize the fieldâs full width of 53 and a third yards, coordinator Josh Heupelâs system emphasizes a physical running game designed to stab the guts of a defense with quick, vertical slashes between the tackles. Huepel and Elarbee favor monstrous linemen who can carry their bulk on nimble feet and bigger backs who decisively…